This past year has been a tough one. We suffered many natural disasters, school shootings almost every day, and not to mention the constant barrage of politics and opinions coming from your family and friends (whether at the dinner table or on social media). Compounding this are our everyday stressors: job stress, family conflict, illness, financial worries, school, mental illness—you name it. All of these problems have been present before, but why does it feel so much more distressing and why do many of us carry it with us constantly?
This subject really struck me this year as I watched many friends my age (in their 20’s) become stricken with grief and anxiety over things that are happening in our world and our country. For the most part, these themes popped up on social media, and it seemed to be the same people who posted again and again about how much their mental health is being affected. I’m sure these particular people are truly struggling with their mental health—and I’m certainly not immune to that. It’s been a tough year on most people for many reasons. But I bring this up because I see that people are carrying the weight of the world on their shoulders, and I want to reach out to those of you who can identify with that feeling.
A fine line between empathy and taking on too much.
I think it is a truly beautiful thing to have passion and care about human rights, our environment, politics, etc. We all should care about those things—if we don’t, who will? After all, we are the only animal on this planet that can make decisions and changes in the world. And when we see terrible things happen, of course it will have an effect on us. But there is a fine line between being empathetic and caring for others’ wellbeing, and letting it take over.
Over the past year, I watched an old friend of mine post a lot on social media. She would share funny graphics or memes about anxiety (which I never knew she struggled with before) in a way that would make light of her struggles. But I started to wonder if she was getting the help she needed. Then, I noticed that she began posting a lot about our current political climate, and I became worried for her because it seemed like she was really carrying a lot with her. I wondered how many people were having a similar experience and what they could do to prevent their worries about the world from taking over their everyday lives—but still remain empathetic and take action when needed.
If you feel like you’re carrying the weight of the world on your shoulder, and you can’t shake it sometimes, check out this list of suggestions on how to remain active about the things you care about, but still keep your mental health in check!
- Be realistic about your worries
Is what you’re stressing about helping you? A lot of times, we get stuck in negative thought patterns and anxieties that we can’t really do anything about. We have to stop and ask ourselves, “Is this thought helpful?” If it isn’t, consider how you can change that thought to something more realistic and logical. Stressing about something on a daily basis that you have no control over isn’t going to help you in the end. Should you have empathy and concern about a topic you care about? Absolutely. But make sure it isn’t interrupting your day-to-day life.
- Find a trusted person to talk to
Maybe you have a friend who can help you digest some of your concerns. Talking it out is always helpful, but also make sure that this person isn’t going to spark the fire even more. If you’re anxious or worried, find that person who calms you. If you have someone like that, great! If not, consider branching out socially or connect with a counselor in your area who can provide support.
- Shy away from social media
This might sound counter-productive, because you want to get the word out about the cause that pulls at your heart strings. But a lot of times we get sucked further into negativity when we start to read Facebook comments or see vlogs from people on the opposite viewpoint. Logically, we know that everyone won’t agree on major issues, but when we see people arguing about it, it can send our stress levels through the roof. I urge you to step away from social media if this happens to you. Or find a way to stay connected without seeing constant negativity. I know I certainly had to do this!
- Participate in your local government
Rather than arguing with your Aunt Beverly about a particular cause or opinion on Facebook, see how you can participate in local elections to make changes that you’d like to see happen! Read articles to keep yourself informed or even attend city meetings. We have to remember that change happens in a local level first!
If nothing else, make sure you remember to intentionally put some positivity into your life. Get outside into nature, try meditation and deep breathing, listen to music, exercise and get moving—whatever works for you! When you feel overwhelmed, step outside of your world and gain perspective. Look for little areas of growth and change—because it does happen on smaller levels.
And remember that you can be the change in the world, but you don’t have to do it all. You don’t have to carry it all with you all the time. Last, remember that you’re not alone, and we all get caught up sometimes. Your mental health has to come before anything else, because you can’t pour from an empty cup.
Until next time,
Megan Roberts, MA
Megan Roberts is a Registered Mental Health Counselor Intern at Breaking Free Services Center for Wellness. Megan specializes in working with teens and adults in all walks of life.